As late-inning relief continues to be a dicey proposition for the Orioles, manager Ray Miller said yesterday that he'll continue to use both right-hander Mike Timlin and left-hander Arthur Rhodes in save situations, with circumstances dictating which direction he takes.
Neither pitcher distinguished himself in Saturday's 7-6, 10-inning victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. Rhodes began the ninth in relief of Sidney Ponson and walked all three batters he faced, throwing only one strike among his 13 pitches. Timlin entered and got a double-play grounder that reduced the lead to 5-4, then served up a two-strike home run to Rob Ducey that moved the Phillies ahead, 6-5.
It was Timlin's fourth blown save in 11 chances, and the third homer he's allowed in his last two appearances. He's allowed 10 earned runs and 11 hits over his last seven innings, covering six outings, to raise his ERA from 3.14 to 6.33.
The closer's role "is between Timlin and Rhodes. It just depends on where we are," Miller said.
"Timlin's done it before. We've just got to get him settled down. Arthur wants to do it, and he probably wants to do it too much. Those are the people we've got and that's who we're going to use. They both have the ability to do it."
Miller approached Rhodes after Saturday's game and told him to get some sleep and forget what had happened. "I told him I'd need him tomorrow and he didn't have to talk to anybody," Miller said.
As Miller's luck would have it, Rhodes wasn't available yesterday because of stiffness in his back.
Bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks has been working with Rhodes on speeding up the time it takes to get loose before entering a game.
"Arthur's always taken forever to warm up, to the point where you'd have to get him up with one out in the sixth to pitch the seventh," Miller said.
Ponson gets Miller rip, rave
Ponson took a morning flight to Aruba yesterday to attend his grandmother's funeral. He's expected to join the Orioles tomorrow night in Florida.
He turned in an inspired performance Saturday, holding the Phillies to three runs in eight innings and striking out a career-high seven batters. His only slippage came in the fifth inning when he allowed a two-run homer to Mike Lieberthal and issued two straight walks before Doug Glanville doubled in another run. Miller chased down Ponson after the inning and gave him a stern lecture.
"I pretty much aired him out when he came off about getting his head up," Miller said. "I screamed at him for a while, then right before the inning ended I went back down and put my arm around him. I said, `I told you this is a maturation process. I know you're under a lot of stress. I know you had a loss. But this is part of being a man. You have to go back out there and compete and keep us in this ballgame.' "
Ponson has vowed to keep his weight down. He came to spring training heavier than Miller wanted, which affected his performance in the early games, but will work with strength and conditioning coach Tim Bishop this winter.
"He's made a commitment not to come in 15, 20 pounds overweight," Miller said. "He's a high-ceiling kid and he's got to take care of that arm. You carry that extra weight and it takes a toll on everything."
To Belle's defense
Miller rushed to the defense of Albert Belle, who failed to run out a ground ball down the third-base line in the ninth inning and drew the ire of an agitated crowd. Already becoming a target of fans because of some defensive lapses in right field and slight run production, Belle was booed loudly as he walked back to the dugout.
Replays showed that the ball appeared to go foul before reaching third baseman Scott Rolen, and Belle stopped after taking a couple strides toward first. He then started up again and was easily thrown out, bringing Miller from the dugout to argue with the umpires.
"I saw the home plate umpire [Mark Johnson] signal foul, but the third base ump [Dale Ford] said it was his call," Miller said. "Not only did I see the home plate ump signal foul, I heard someone yell `foul.' "
Belle threw out two runners on the base paths, but also went 0-for-5. He's 10-for-51 in his last 13 games and has only one homer in his last 18, spanning 80 plate appearances.
Long time gone
Jason Johnson went nine days between starts when he took the mound May 29 in Oakland, and he paid the price, allowing six hits and four earned runs in three innings. When he's handed the ball tomorrow night in Florida, 10 more days will have passed.
This time, he vows, the results will be different.
"I've prepared a lot different," he said. "In Oakland, I let it get to me a little bit, but for this start I've worked really hard. I've put in a lot of hours working out and throwing, making sure I'm ready to go when the time comes. It's going to be a little different."
Johnson threw in the bullpen for about 18 minutes before Saturday's game. He also got in some work on Tuesday in Seattle, pitching two-thirds of an inning in relief and allowing a home run to Russ Davis.